- Education and Science
Joseph Mengele: "Death Angel"
Joseph Mengele, the WWII Nazi German SS officer and physician at the Auschwitz concentration camp, was the archetype of absolute evil. He was called the “Angel of Death” and the atrocities he perpetrated are the stuff horror movies are made of. Mengele was considered a handsome man, but it was also said he was an enigma.
One moment he could be kind and thoughtful and the next a monster. He would give children sweets and treat them with kindness. They came to adore him and even called him “Uncle Mengele.” Then he would give them a ride to their place of extermination.
Mengele was born into a Catholic family on March the 16th, 1911 in Gunzberg, Bavaria Germany and was the eldest of three children. As a youth he was known as brilliant and inquisitive. He became particularly interested in genetics, especially identical twins.
In the early 1930s, Mengele began studying anthropology at the University of Munich, and received a PhD in 1935. Two years later found him at the Institute for Hereditary, Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt studying under Theodor Mollison and Eugen Fischer. These two scholars had earlier been involved in questionable medical experiments on the Herero Tribe in what is now Namibia in South-West Africa. Mengele became a member of the Nazi Party in 1937 and after earning his medical degree joined the SS in 1938.
Mengele married Irene Schönbein in July 1939 and they had one son, Rolf. The marriage dissolved in 1949 when Irene left him and he immigrated to Buenos Aires that same year. Mengele later remarried in 1958 to the widow of his deceased younger brother.
Mengele was recruited into the army in 1940 and he later volunteered for medical service in the combat arm of the SS. During this time he was decorated for heroism on several occasions. When Mengele was wounded in June 1941 on the Soviet Front he was declared unfit for combat duty, so he was transferred to the Race and Resettlement Office in Berlin. By the time he was sent to Auschwitz in May 1943 he had attained the rank of Captain and had become an expert in biomedical and genetic abnormalities.
In fact, he requested Auschwitz for the research opportunities it could provide. There, he could continue his research in heredity with an inexhaustible supply of inmates for human experimentation. Mengele had the power of life and death with his position of being in charge of the “selection” process. Any prisoner having an imperfection, even being too short, would be immediately sent to the gas chambers. The others, except for twins, would be kept for forced labor. The twins would be sent to his laboratories for macabre experimentation…all in the name of Hitler’s plan for the “master race” and of course, his own morbid curiosity.
However, the main objective of the camp was to exterminate the inferior and Mengele contributed significantly to that goal. He taught other physicians how to quickly end numerous lives all at once by injecting large groups with phenol. It was said he also shot people and burned infants alive in the crematoria. But, throughout the horror he viewed himself simply a dedicated scientist.
It’s unfathomable how he could think so nobly of himself in view of the facts concerning his research on twins. They were meticulously weighed, measured and compared in every conceivable way. They were interrogated relentlessly about their family history all the while having blood drawn for the lab. Some were killed by dissection in pathological examinations, usually without anesthesia. Limbs, sexual organs and other body parts were excruciatingly removed.
He even attempted some sex-change operations. The waste in human lives was unimaginable. If one twin died in the process, the other became useless for his gruesome experimentation and they were casually exterminated. Following experiments, if the subject was still alive, they were exterminated anyway. Once Mengele took 14 pairs of twins and put them to sleep by injecting Chloroform into their hearts. They died instantly. Mengele then dissected them.
These innocent children were injected with various concoctions to see how they reacted. The result was far too frequently death. But, that was of no concern to Mengele. There were many more where they came from. Still, even as he chose his “specimens” he'd play with them and shower them with affection. After they were dead he reportedly was sometimes seen carrying their head around or pinning their eyes to a bulletin board. This is in glaring contrast to what he once wrote. "I personally have not killed, injured or caused bodily harm to anyone."
Some experiments made little sense, even to others who worked with him. In one experiment, he tried to change children’s eye color to blue by injecting their eyes with a chemical. The chemical caused immense pain, suffering and blindness…and didn’t work. He also studied dwarves and mutilating diseases.
After the war, Mengele was declared a war criminal and he fled to South America, escaping the Nuremburg trials. He died February 7, 1979. His remains were identified by a team of forensic anthropologists.